Making eAccessibility a reality in the UK: Where we are and where we could be
eAccessibility in the UK sits within the wider EU legislative framework and is broadly concerned with policy development around the accessibility of all things digital. As such, the UK Government has created the eAccessibility Forum and brought Government, Industry and the Third Sector together to look at policy and implementation.
At present, the main channels for content delivery - television, radio, books & periodicals and the intranet - are separate. However, with convergence being the promise once super-fast broadband is here, then these things will merge, but for now the different medium are represented by their industries accordingly.
eAccessibility and Digital Inclusion
The Forum is not part of the Digital Inclusion agenda, which is something that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency; although connectivity is central to the success of bridging the digital divide, what happens once people are connected is just as important. If websites are not accessible, then what are we connecting people to? It is akin to providing the only bus in town to get to the mall, but then scheduling the bus to arrive when the mall is shut.
More awareness but little traction
Efforts to ensure that websites are accessible, despite gigantic leaps in awareness, have failed in the mainstream. This is due to wooly legislation, no industry governance, inaccessible tools to create and consume content and most web educators teaching some abhorrent and antiquated practices. The responsibility for accessibility does not lie with those creating content alone.
Educate, Legislate and Regulate
There is legislation already in place that covers the areas under consideration by the Forum, and these are complex, varied and disparate. Getting to grips with the various pieces of legislation, policies, directives, and so on, at both central and local government levels and putting these together under a cohesive umbrella is required.
As an industry, the Internet is still in its infancy, but has grown rapidly and out of control. There is no point in trying to post-rationalise, but there certainly is value in looking at where we are and for the Forum to grab this fantastic opportunity to take a holistic view of the industry and make sense of things. All of the pieces of the Internet need to fit beautifully and work nicely together.
Regulations need not be too rigorous or onerous to comply with, or so loose as to not be enforceable. Rather, the Forum must a take into account the nature of technology, ensuring that whatever is put in place is agile and flexible enough to adapt to technological changes over time.
For educators, the Forum needs to work with Government and Industry in order to build a skilled workforce for whom eAccessibility is an inherent part of great digital experiences, wherever and however they are delivered.